Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Markham has been called “the first real poet of Labor.” This poem called attention to social problems and served as the topic of discussion for a wide range of audiences, including ministers, politicians, professors, students, debaters, and orators.

In order to understand why Markham wrote as he did, it is necessary to have some knowledge of his background. Markham was born in Oregon City, Oregon, the youngest child of pioneer parents who divorced soon after his birth. He moved with his mother, who was very demanding, to Lagoon Valley, California, and was put to lonely and difficult work on her farm and ranch before he was ten years old. He was constantly aware of the grind of toil. He wrote about his experience of hoeing the garden for long periods of time, as he encountered pain in his back. Markham was especially interested in the trials and tribulations of poor working people. He was concerned about the external forces and circumstances that affected them.

Markham experienced some hardships as he attempted to accomplish a number of his goals. Getting an education was not easy. Initially, Markham’s mother did not financially assist him with his educational goals. Markham even ran away from home for a short period of time in 1867, and he did not return until his mother decided to help finance his studies. After matriculating at California College in Vacaville, he received his teacher’s certificate. Later he studied at San Jose Normal...

(The entire section is 441 words.)